Huth shut the door behind him with uncharacteristic gentleness. His expression was abstract. It took him a moment to turn and look at Archer, as though the other man was a difficult task to be carried out with care and forethought. But of course, thought Archer, handling him was a large part of Huth’s daily tasks. You could hardly blame the man for showing it in his face, though, of course, he did.
Huth’s voice was gentle. Archer lit a cigarette and close his eyes, breathing in the smoke slowly. He perched on the edge of the table and fixed Huth with a stare that contained a complexity of emotions, alloyed into steel. Huth met it with raised eyebrows.
He knew he did not really hate Huth. Archer’s emotions swirled like a sea, rising and falling in a tide. At present he was in deep, and the bitterness made him twist away as Huth slowly paced forward and laid a hand on his shoulder.
“Don’t touch me, please.”
“How English of you.” Huth took a bottle and two glasses from the cabinet and poured from them both. “Odd little quirk of civilisation, these reflexive good manners.” He toasted to Archer with a little tip of the wrist. “I think an Englishman would apologise if he knocked someone’s teeth out. Whether he meant it or not.”
“Just don’t touch me.”
“You really do blame me.” Huth swallowed his drink like medicine. “I cannot belive you have the nerve to criticise me, knowing all you know.”
“Too many of those people had children.”
“And they made their decisions and decided terrorism was more important to them than the safety and security and future of those children. Have you lost your memory?” Huth tapped the top of Archer’s head lightly with his cane. “Sympathise with these rebels all you like, but never forget; Their leaders tortured us.”
“The people we just sent to the firing squad didn’t.”
“We don’t know that. Even if we did, they made their choices. We made ours. And here we are. And, Archer, you cannot shoulder the consequences of their decisions for them. You have your own self-absorbed moral wrangling to bear. Let them bear theirs. They knew perfectly well what would happen to those who loved them if and when they got caught. Well, they did it anyway, and they lied and stole, like we do, and they killed, like we do, and they did what they saw as their duty every time. As we do.”
Archer met his eyes. They observed each other in silence for a moment, as though from opposite ends of some vast chasm where the obsidian waters run, miles below, and the winds are perilous. Too far away, and dangerously close.
Archer leaned forward.
“You lying coward” he whispered.
Their breath mingled. Huth was the first to lean back, slowly, the silence stretching out between them, demanding a reply. Distantly, a clock struck the hour, somewhere out in the city. It was one in the morning. Archer wondered when he had lost the habit of going to sleep like a normal human being.
Huth refilled his own glass with a clink, pushing the other toward Archer like a Christmas present. “You need to be drunk my dear Superintendent” he said. The look he cast Archer was sly, glittering, full of irony and something darker. “When a sober man acts drunk, that is a sign that he desperately needs alcohol. Drink up. Drink. Let us empty the damn cabinet.” He sighed and examined his glass, his colorless eyes taking on a peculiar blankness as though seeking the depths for the answer to some unanswerable question. His face relaxed. For a moment he looked much older than he was.
“We both need a drink” he told the air. “God knows.” He downed his entire glass and refilled immediately. Archer held up his own glass, watched the light shine and refract in the amber depths.
“If God knows it, he has a lot to answer for” muttered Archer. He drank.
It was somewhere around one thirty in the morning when Huth, SS Standartenfuhrer and scourge of political dissenters, pulled his assistant towards him and planted a clumsy, drunken, illegal kiss on his mouth.
The curtains were open. Unusually for Berlin, no-one was watching. Had anyone been awake, watching silent from the rooftops on that cold Autumn night, they would have seen two tiny figures, frail like charcoal sketches of men, struggle in an underwater silence, behind the glass of the window, the room a cell of warmth in the blank Berlin night. A strange, slow, reluctant wrestling, as though neither figure knew if they were seeking possession of or freedom from the other, conducted in silence, and the wind was the only witness.
“Mmh” grunted Archer. The kiss was all teeth and impatience. An incisor bruised his lower lip as Huth’s fingers closed possessively around his neck, near the base of the skull. “Sir.”
“Don’t pretend you never anticipated it” Huth spoke against his mouth, their lips brushing with the words. “You foresaw it a long time ago. And you signed up for it then, because you wanted to.” The fingers of his other hand closed in the fabric of Archer’s shirt, clenching and creasing.
“Don't” muttered Archer into Huth’s parted lips. The mouth closed on his again. He waited out the kiss, surfacing with thoughts full of red heat. “Don’t do that now.” Huth said nothing, their faces close.
The world was obscured, only one of Huth’s darkened eyes and a slice of his cheek within view. Archer exhaled, hating himself and leaned into another kiss, hands gripping the tabletop by his sides. Huth was rough and greedy, biting, tongue invading, taking possession. Archers head spun. He was hot with humiliation, hot with anger at the iniquities of the day, anger at Huth, hot with drink and his skin burned. The air was cool on the back of his neck, where the hairs pricked upright and then his hands clung of their own accord to Huth’s shoulders, twisted into his hair, and Huth’s mouth was slipping sideways, trailing across his skin. He closed his eyes.
Huth savaged his throat gently, kissing and biting, the tooth marks tiny dents. Archer tilted his head back and gave in to vertigo. There was no thought, only a darkness filled with sensations. The hot predator mouth, the nipping teeth, and the cool air on the curve of his throat. The heat rising. Red heat, flushing up, from where his body met Huth’s, pressed close, against his leg, against the space between his legs… Heat flushing, up his torso, where the firm hands gripped him, invading, feeling, laying claim… Heat. Flushing up, past the restricting collar that penned it in, rising to meet the air where is cooled him, where Huth’s mouth was on him, where…
He wanted the world reduced to this spot, wanted a lock on the door to keep out a city of invasive moral greys. He wanted Huth to stop. He wanted Huth to not stop. He wanted time and the world locked out. He wanted to touch someone. He wanted to take a gun to the world. He wanted to sleep. He wanted.
Huth rocked against him like a ship at sea and Archer reeled forward in the dangerous waters. A sort of gasp broke the busy silence of the room. It took a moment for Archer to realise it came from himself. Huth broke off and looked up at him. His face was almost innocent, eyes wide and guileless. Archer looked down at the hot verge of himself, seeing the torso, the brown shirt so very rumpled, seeing the part where their bodies joined, where Huth pressed up against him at the table edge. Saw the arms wrapped immovably around him. There was only one way this could end. The silence told him. The beating temperature of his own blood told him. The loneliness of the night outside the window told him. And something rebellious twisted in his gut to know it.
“Dangerous here” he muttered. Something flickered over Huth’s face and was blanked out, the corners of his mouth lifting slightly. He had been unsure, Archer realised, with an irrational surge of anger. Unsure. The risk had paid off. “Aren’t you ashamed?” he asked the immovable face viciously. “Fuck you. Aren’t you ashamed? You are my superior, sir.” Huth’s mouth tightened and he remained silent. Eventually, Archer let his head fall forward, leaning into the other man’s arms. His chin rested on the top of Huth’s head. The arms twined around him, pressing tight, a sea anenomie embrace.
They remained like that in silence for a while, listening to each others breathing. Huth was the first to break away, becoming businesslike. “We will go to my flat” he said. He rubbed his face, seemed to gather himself, then looked up at the rumpled figure before him. Archer’s eyes were dark, his face emptied by weariness. Huth clenched his jaw, assessing every feature with concern. Were the lines of Archer’s face harder than a year ago? Was his mouth becoming bitter? He traced the line of the lips, feeling the breath on his fingertips as Archer flinched away. He didn’t care. He moved on to caress the cheek, feeling the delicate bone structure, studying the lines around the dark eyes, the expression of the eyes themselves. He knew the tightness, the slight droop of the mouth particular to defeated men. He had seen it a thousand times, in prisoners, in blackmail victims, in press-ganged saboteurs and spies. Was there a trace of the look in Archer’s face? He couldn’t tell. If there was, was it his fault? The question cast itself on a night with no answers, leaving only an aftertaste of self-accusation. He caressed the throat, touching the soft skin just under the jaw, running down, feeling the blood and the breath under his fingertips. He dropped his hand and stood.
Huth’s flat was bare and masculine, full of the ghosts of cigarettes and solitary evenings. Archer wondered how often he was actually here. Neither man had spoken in the car, and in the living room, neither seemed in a hurry to begin. Social niceties were not wanted here, they both knew instinctively. When they wanted to talk, they would talk.
Huth put a record on a dust-filmed gramophone. A saxophone mourned its way through the night.
Archer was examining the clock on the mantelpiece when he sensed Huth’s body heat behind him. Muscle-hard arms encircled his torso and he kept his eyes on the clock. Small skeletal figures flanked the clock face as though to keep the owner mindful of death. It was decedent art of the sort now banned. Huth’’s lips were on his cheek and he mused on a bone finger pointing to a carved hourglass, presenting time to the unwary. Hands unbuckled his belt. The clock face said two-fifteen.
Huth’s teeth grazed his skin under the touch of possessive lips. Compulsion takes many forms.
They reached the bedroom slowly, shedding clothes methodically as they went. Huth stripped Archer’s tunic and shirt deliberately, paying every move and shedding of cloth grave attention, until the white chest was bare. He caressed it.
Archer felt the edge of the bed against the back of his knees and collapsed onto it without objection. He closed his eyes, giving himself up to fate. That sense of exquisite humiliation enveloped him again, as the assault stripped him naked, every hair on his skin prickling. Hot breath huffed over him and made those hairs tremble. He was naked. He was exposed. His fingers clenched empty air.
Then Huth’s body was on his and he embraced the hard frame that felt more like a weapon than a man. Iron under the skin. Hard muscle flexed against his, and his fingers traced a foreign anatomy, ran down from flesh-less shoulders to the small of the back. His eyes opened and their gaze locked again, a clash of soul on soul as fingers gripped his thighs.
The night passed in gasps and sighs, becoming sharp cries, a rocking acceleration as the two men struggled together.
It was war. What else it was, neither would have said or admitted.
They clung and bit, seeking solace in the touch and taste of the other man, seeking possession of something neither could name.
The night passed in the expanding and contracting of a pupil. In the rising of Archer’s knees. In whispers heard by shadows gathered like cobwebs in the corners of the room. The night passed in Archer’s longing for conclusion, as each rock of a dangerous boat tipped him closer to that longed-for breaking on the threshold of death.
The clustering shadows retreated slowly, as the room grew hotter, each gasp fanning a flame that irradiated the bare walls, the indifferent furniture. The shadows, retreated, trembled, vanished, as a cry broke out that incinerated the night for a moment, a cry from two throats, of triumph, of pleading, of despair.
They shared a cigarette. The smoke coiled as it always did, towards the ceiling, indifferent to the changing lives of men.
But then, how much had changed? Really?
They lay together in the bluish dim before dawn, before the tentative grey light announces the day. An artist would have found them a nice study. Still, angular limbs, contours and shadows, only the glint of light on an eye to indicate either was awake.
At some point soon, they would have to get up, put their uniforms on, and face the eternal war of attrition that the day brought. They would have to talk; The hard-eyed, grave conversations of SS intelligence; And words between them alone.
For now they lay silent, content in each other’s company, before the dawn.